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My Tryst With Smoking

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It  took  decades  for  the  ill effects of tobacco on health to  be  made  public  and  many  nations took some  more  years  to  ban  smoking  in  public  places and  spend  on anti-smoking  campaigns..
Between the two world wars, cigarettes were  part of a soldiers rations.  There was not a single film where  somebody  didn’t smoke.  In fact in war films wounded soldiers were comforted by a cigarette;   the  last wishes of a condemned man was to light up one last time.  Smoking  was  considered  manly  and  glamorous.  Catchy  jingles  freely  advertised   smoking   on  radio  till  about  1965  and  companies   gave  away  attractive  gifts  advertising  their  cigarettes.

Cigarette breaks during   prolonged hard work in the forces  were encouraged. Fear,  loneliness, far flung  postings addicted  many to smoking. Nobody  saw the damage to health that smoking was causing  and  burning  a  hole in the  smokers’ pocket. Things like passive smoking had not yet been  heard.  At the dinner table, meetings,and other occasions, the majority who smoked were cordially allowed to do so! The length of a meeting could  be  calculated  from the  overflowing ashtrays and the pall of smoke in the conference room .

Many   tobacco  companies  even sponsored  sports teams. A  company  ran  a  nationwide  contest  called  Made  For  Each  Other. A   married   couple   could  take   part   in   it   if  either  of  them  smoked!  The  most  photogenic  and  smart  couples  were  chosen  regionally  for  a   national  contest  and  the  ultimate winners featured  on  cigarette   advertisements  in  the  media.  The  impact  of   smoking being glorified  was  so   profound   that  many  women  preferred   partners/men  who smoked !  This  must  sound  absolutely  insane  and  incredible   by  today’s  thinking  but  remember  that  homes  then  were  incomplete  without  ashtrays,  cigarette  lighters  and  holed  clothing  from  smoking ;  the   smell of  tobacco  smoke  was  not  considered  offensive.

After the statutory warning ,  the  high cost of smoking and the ban of smoking in public places,the number of smokers may have   reduced  and  benefitted  those who are allergic to tobacco smoke.  The irony is that one can freely chew any mix of tobacco today but not smoke  in public! Are the tobacco  chewers causing secondary damage to people around?  We do not know yet .

I  was  a  victim  of  those  times  and  began  smoking  quite  early. When  companions  said, ” Come  on,  try  one  at  least,”  I   fell  prey  to  it  and  coughed  and  smoked  for  the  first  time.  Soon   it  became  a  few  puffs  and  that  was  enough  for  me  to  get  into  the  habit  which  I  did  not  know  would  take  a  vicelike  grip  on  me.  I  do  not  blame  my  companions  nor  should  you  for  the  bad  habits  you  acquire.  You  have  the  choice  of  either  avoiding  such  company  or  be  strong willed  to  resist.  Smoking  is  definitely  a  vile  habit   and  once  you  pick  it  up    you  live  under  the  shadow  of  cancer.  It    is  a  veil  over  your  life  that  prevents  you  from  seeing  things  in  their  correct  perspective.  I  smoked   by  the  packets and  by  the  carton for  decades-  on  waking  up,  with  tea,  after  breakfast,  at  the  morning  tea  break,  at  meetings,  when  concentrating  on  important  tasks,  a  few  after  lunch,  then  at  afternoon  tea,  in  between  games  of  badminton,  with  my  tipple  and  after  dinner.  If  I  kept  up  late  which  was  the  norm  for  a  decade  I  would   keep lighting  up  until  I  flopped  down  in  bed.  I  tried  twice  over   a  few  months  to  quit  but  nicotine  won  and  my  resolve  evaporated.  In  my  own  eyes  and  in  the  view  of  others  I  was  an  incorrigible  addict:  I  was  a  real  hard  core  smoker.

My  habit  was  so  vicious  that  I  would  brazenly  vitiate  the  air  in  the  company  of  family  and  children  anywhere  and at  any   time.  I   stooped    very  low  to  smoke  in  the  presence  of  my  parents  and  elders.
I  gained  nothing  but  jeopardized  my  health  and  life,  lost  my  pride  and   thousands  went  up  in  smoke.  I  who took pride in  my  intellect  was  reduced  by  nicotine  to  do  inane  and  mindless  things  and  I  was  out  of  control.

Though  my  father  and  brother  smoked  till  their  premature  death,  this  did  not  deter  me  to  quit  smoking.  I  was  once  vehemently  against  smoking   therefore  my  becoming  a  smoker  was  the  most  stupid  thing  I  did  in  my  life.  Smoking  can  push  a  man  to  desperate  lengths-  when  I  ran  out  of  cigarettes  at  an odd   hour  or  place  I  would  madly  go  far  and  wide  in  search  of  a  shop  to  buy    cigarettes  to  feed  my  addiction.  I  smoked  all  kinds  of  cigarettes,  cigars,  bought  tobacco  pouches  and  rolled    cigarettes, tried  out  a  pipe  and  even  tried  bidis (  raw  and  rough  tobacco in  hand-rolled   tendu  leaves).  Nobody,  not  seniors,  relatives  or  friends  ever  upbraided  me  for  smoking.  My  FiL  once  mildly  advised  me  to  reduce  smoking but the  demon  addiction  stayed.


Nicotine  robs  you  of  self-esteem. I  did  not  realize  that  there  is  a  thing  called  passive  smoking  or  that  smokers  can  make  others  uncomfortable,  sick  and  breathe  secondary  smoke.  I  never  considered  that  around  me  there  could  be  people  with  allergies  to  smoke, particularly  cigarette  smoke. That  I  am  still  around  could  be  because  I  was  a  very  active  sportsman  and  of very  robust  constitution  and  good  immunity.  Although   I  have  been  fortunate  to  have  survived  years  of  self-poisoning,  I  am  paying  a  relatively  small  price  for  it-  sneezing  bouts,  runny  nose  and  the  smoker’s  cough  that  comes  on  erratically;  my  voice  has  become  harsher  and  rasping. I  have  not  yet  got  cancer  but  when  and  if  it  strikes  it  will  be  justified  for  the  excesses  I  have  done  to  myself.

Luckily  I  do  not  have  emphysem ,   have not suffered  a  stroke  or had other  health  complications.  After  I  stopped  games  I  did  not  drive  anywhere  when  I  could walk;  besides,  each  morning  I  walked  briskly  in  the   oxygen  rich  morning  air. My  pulse  rate  would  be  up  and  my  heart  and  lungs  got  a  good  workout.  My  feet  began  to  act  like  auxiliary  pumps  for  good  blood  circulation-  my  B.P.  is  at  120/80;   doctors  tell  me  that  my  lungs  are  clear.  This  in  no  way  should  encourage  anybody  to  smoke  and  hope  to   get  away.  Smoking  kills!


During  my    visit  to  London  a  decade  ago,  the  high  cost  of  cigarettes,  the  concerted  campaign     against  smoking,  its  ban  in  public  places  and  the  home  fitted  with  smoke  sensors  all  helped  my  resolve  to  quit.  When  I  did   so  for  weeks  and  then  months, nobody  at  home  believed  that  I  had  done  so;  they  thought  that  I   was  smoking  on  the   quiet  and  if  not  I  would  be  back  to  it  after  some  time  like my  earlier  failed attempts.  This  time  I  needed  no    substitutes   or  reminders  from  anybody  to  combat  the  temptation  of  nicotine.  I  think  that   after smoking   for  42  years,  my  guardian  angel  was  with  me  because  I  did  not  suffer  from   withdrawal  symptoms  or   pangs  or  feel  the  urge  at  any  time  to  smoke.  For  the  first  few  years,  in my   nightmares  though, I  was  horrified  to  find  myself  smoking  just   that  one  cigarette-  when  I  got  up ,  this  jolt   strengthened  my  resolve  to  continue  my  fight  against   smoking.


There  came   many  benefits  from  quitting;  my sense of smell   returned  strongly  and  my  appetite  improved;  my  skin tone became  better  and  my  frame  filled  out;  joint  pains  that  had  afflicted  me  stopped.  I   slept  better  and  my  tongue  lost  its  furriness  and  my  oral  hygiene  improved  to  the  extent  that  my  past   excesses  would  allow; my  health  is  better  and  now  I  do not  need  regular  antacids.  My  oxygen  intake  is  better  and  I  have  no  problem  walking  a  kilometre with  a    few   kilos  bag  without  breaking  a sweat  or  climbing  stairs  without  gasping.


I  can  walk  five kilometres  easily  in  an  hour  and  not  feel  any  ill  effects.  The  only  reminder  that  I  was  an  addicted  smoker  is  a   small  spot  in  my  lung  that   generates  phlegm.  I  am  hopeful  that  my  body  is  on  the  mend  very   slowly. The  hefty  savings  that  have  been  made,  allow  me  to  spend  on  myself  and  the  family  without    second  thoughts  and  in  treating  myself  to  things  that  I  had  been  denying  myself. Like  they  said  in  one  of  the  posters  in  the  UK,  it  is  cash  from  ash! Whether  these  gains  give  me  an  illness-free  longer  life   only  time  will  tell.

I  will  celebrate  nine years  of  a  smoke-free  life  and  I  am  confident  that  I  will  stay  out  of  the  clutches  of  the  most  dangerous  addiction  in  human  history. When  I  see  the  many  young  lungs  inhaling  this  vile  smoke  I  feel  sorry   that   despite  full  knowledge  that    tobacco  causes  cancer, they have  chosen  a  death  wish. I  wish  to  say  that  do  not  try  out  smoking;  it  is  the  most  addictive  thing  known  to  man  and  extremely  difficult  to  quit  but  not  impossible.  Once  you  are  habituated  it  will  take  charge  of  your  life  and  destroy  it. If  my  story  can  inspire  a  few  persons  to  quit  smoking  I  will  feel  that  I  have  done  something  for  society. Together  we  can  make  an  impact  in  saving  many  from  the  ravages  of  smoking.



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